Michael Douglas is as good as any actor working at portraying the moral and
ethical dilemmas of aging men. He has made something of a specialty of the
role in fact: often portraying men who adapt shallow, greedy,
sensation-driven lifestyles as an attempt to stave off time, competition and
There is almost a tragic undertone to the way that Douglas’ characters grasp
at a lifestyle that is naturally slipping away from them – that of respect,
affluence and occasional hedonism. Sleeping with younger women does not
make you younger – it just makes you a daddy (or granddaddy) figure.
Douglas plays the role with such sincerity, self-depreciation and charm that
he almost never comes off as being as slimy as his characters’ acts. The
guys may say and do horrible things, but we want to believe in the ultimate
good-heartedness deep inside of them.
leading up to the reappearance of Douglas’ ultimate alpha-male character,
Gordon Gekko in the sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Douglas
bites into his juiciest role since the brilliant Wonder Boys a decade
Solitary Man –
named after one of the greatest love-gone-wrong tunes ever (Johnny Cash’s
version of the song is used over the opening credits) – is actually kind of
a misnomer. Ben Kalmen may be lonely, but he is almost never alone. In
fact, he seems to have a disturbing compulsion to be surrounded by other
people whenever possible. He has family, friends and a
seemingly-never-ending stream of women circling his universe. He has a
tendency to horribly disappoint them and often at least temporarily repel
them – but his family and friends usually forgive him his peccadilloes (the
women, on the other hand, usually don’t).
Kalmen is an aging businessman – the owner of several car dealerships who
has wealth, a long marriage with his college sweetheart (Susan Sarandon) and
even some notoriety from his hard-sell appearances in local commercials
as the "honest dealer."
His life seems to be going perfectly. His daughter has gotten married and
given him a grandson who adores him, he has just been able to donate money
to name the library at his college alma mater after himself.
film starts with Kalmen having a normal checkup. The doctor looks a little
concerned and tells Kalmen he would like him to get some tests, something
looks a little wrong. Rather than going to a
specialist to get
the tests, the guy decides to totally reinvent his lifestyle – on the
understanding that death could be right around the corner.
plot tangent gets added poignancy in the months between the movie’s release
and its current DVD debut, because of Douglas’ recent announcement that he
has been diagnosed with stage four throat cancer – a diagnoses that had been
missed by several doctors over many months, when the condition had been much
film flashes forward six or so years from the doctor’s appointment. Kalmen
hasn’t been to a doctor since – a daily baby aspirin seems to be the only
concession he has made to maintain his health. However, Kalmen’s life has
spun out of control. He has just gotten out of jail for frauds which he
committed with his businesses – which have been closed down. He has left
his wife for a never-ending stream of short-lived affairs with younger
women. He has pretty much estranged his daughter (Jenna
Fischer) to the
point that she is just about ready to cut him out of her life – and that of
her son. He is almost out of money and having little luck in trying to find
a business or job.
Kalmen is trying to get his life back together and reopen a car dealership.
He also agrees to take the teen daughter of his latest girlfriend (Mary
Louise Parker) to his old alma mater to show the girl around and help her
get into the school. A spectacularly foolish sexual relationship destroys
all of those plans, however, while at the school he sees an old college
friend (Danny DeVito) who reminds Kalmen of the simpler pleasures of life.
ending is left a little ambiguous. We think we know the direction Kalmen
will go, but the film fades to black as he is faced with a figurative (and
sort of literal) fork in the road where he can retreat to the safety of the
past or he can continue following the potentially self-destructive
tendencies that have ruled his life for the last several years.
again, much of life is ambiguous. Solitary Man is a smart, funny and
occasionally sad look at a man whose insecurity makes him flawed, somewhat
unlikeable and at the same time, very recognizably human.
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: September 12, 2010.